Tuesday 17 September 2019

Five reasons why Ireland are better off being underdogs going into the Rugby World Cup in Japan

It's been a long 12 months since beating the All Blacks at the Aviva
It's been a long 12 months since beating the All Blacks at the Aviva

Des Berry

The Ireland World Cup squad departed Dublin airport this afternoon in a far different place than they would have ten months ago.

And that may be no bad thing.

Last November, Ireland and New Zealand went at it with the tag of the best in the world on the line at The Aviva.

This was not an unexpected mugging on the clean streets of Chicago where excuses could be rolled out afterwards.

It was a brisk Ballsbridge evening in which the perpetrator could not sneak up from behind on the victim.

Steve Hansen travelled with intent, to show the latest European upstarts that the All Blacks reign as the best was not in doubt.

Ireland's Jacob Stockdale delivered a knockout blow that had the Irish slated as genuine World Cup contenders.

Here are five reasons Ireland are better off being underdogs with low expectations going into the World Cup. 

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THE BREAKDOWN

Since the New Zealand win, just about everything Ireland have done to maintain their ranking within the game has been less than what they produced to get there.

England took an axe to the plan for back-to-back Grand Slams and the scars left the Irish "broken" all the way to the last day of the Six Nations when Wales succeeded them as the Grand Slam champions.

Thereafter, Saracens' physical domination of Leinster in the Champions Cup final served to confirm that impression that the core of Ireland's team had not been fully rehabilitated.

PRE-WORLD CUP RECORD

The off-season allowed time to inhale and expand the initial list of World Cup hopefuls to 43 which was quickly reduced to 40 and, finally, to the final cut of 31 men, who will hope to go where no Irish team has ever gone before – beyond the quarter-final.

Along the way, there have been injuries to Joey Carbery, which has just about cleared up, and to Devin Toner, which may just have cost him his seat on the plane.

However, Jonathan Sexton is 'thumbs up' and Keith Earls' quad is reportedly behaving.   

The pre-World Cup campaign ended with a respectable three wins from four, despite that record-breaking loss to England in Twickenham.

The good news is that there were excuses that looked far more believable after last Saturday's defeat of Wales than they did three weeks ago. 

NUMBER ONE  

There was even mathematical confirmation that Ireland had moved to the top of the world rankings for the first time ever.

They have done this without anyone, anywhere claiming they are the best in the world which is just the way coach Joe Schmidt would want it.

The mere fact Wales moved to the head of the class - New Zealand reclaimed top spot for one week - before the Irish pointed to the gross

inconsistencies in the ranking system.

New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina had serious business to tend to in The Rugby Championship, while Europe's elite toyed and

tinkered with their teams as the lead-in to meaningless results. 

THE JAPANESE BUBBLE 

When Ireland land in Japan, the goldfish bowl that is this island will be replaced by the relative anonymity that will allow Schmidt to quietly prepare for Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday week. 

Although the Kiwi often alludes to the Carton House bubble, there is no escaping the giddy gossip of the general public when his players are released back into the wild.

The constant mention of the bubble would lead us all to believe there is no other method of communication, other than carrier pigeon.

The simple fact is the World Cup and Ireland's place in it is all that has been aired for the last two months.   

For example, there are probably not that many people out there that know, or care, that the PRO14 League starts on the last weekend in September.

It will be a relief for all of them to finally get away and get down to work.

LOW EXPECTATIONS

Ireland will enter into the World Cup as a mid-ranking nation at best, behind New Zealand, South Africa, England and Wales.  

Brian O'Driscoll knows a thing or two about making big statements before the biggest tournament.

In 2007, Ireland talked freely about the belief that they could win the World Cup in France and they came home chastened, depressed, humiliated.

Given Ireland's history at RWC, they are entitled to play the role of 'the underdog.'

They have earned it from never making it beyond the last eight in the previous eight tournaments.

To the outside world, Ireland will begin their adventure more in hope than expectation.

And that's just the way they like it.  

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